Russian Presidential Candidate Shuns Communist Party Dogma

The Communist Party’s candidate for president would seem to be an odd choice: He’s a millionaire and proud of it. He also openly rejects the basic tenets of Communism.

 

 Pavel Grudinin is the Russian party’s first new nominee in 14 years as it hopes to rejuvenate itself and broaden its appeal from its traditional base of aging voters who are nostalgic for the old Soviet Union.   

 

Not that Grudinin – or any other candidate – has much of a chance of unseating President Vladimir Putin when Russia votes on March 18. The presence of Grudinin and other official candidates are largely viewed as a Kremlin ploy to boost voter participation in an election that has a foregone conclusion.

 

A low presidential vote turnout would be seen as an embarrassment for the Kremlin. That’s why opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was leading a grassroots campaign for nearly a year before being formally barred from running, has been urging his supporters to boycott the presidential election and dent its legitimacy.

 

In contrast, Grudinin is urging voters to come to polls and bring change through the political process.

The 57-year-old agricultural college graduate runs what is still known as the Lenin State Farm, a sprawling collective farm south of Moscow, the capital.

 

With his bushy mustache and salt-and-pepper hair, Grudinin’s looks are often compared to those of a young Josef Stalin. Grudinin worked on the farm in the mid-1980s and was appointed its director a decade later.

 

While most of the collective plots outside Moscow were sold off years ago to property developers, the Lenin State Farm evolved into a successful private business, growing vegetables and raising livestock. Its signature product is strawberries, accounting for a third of all of them produced in Russia.

 

While metal or wooden strawberries adorn lampposts, fences and farm buildings in the town, Grudinin’s self-promoted image of a farmer is not the whole story. He admits that his company over the years has made only a third to half of its income from agricultural production, which he blames on a lack of government subsidies and low wages for consumers who cannot afford his organic produce.

 

In fact, the Lenin State Farm makes most of its money from property deals, leasing and selling land for shopping centers.

 

Corruption is rampant in the Moscow region, home to some of Russia’s most expensive real estate. Yet many international corporations doing business here refuse to pay officials under the table.

 

Communist-capitalist

Grudinin views his deals with companies like the Swedish furniture giant IKEA as a badge of honor, citing it as proof that he does not pay bribes.

 

Grudinin owns 44 percent of the farm and runs it with 33 other shareholders. The Communist-capitalist prides himself on reinvesting the profits back into the business or creating housing, education and other benefits for the community.

 

The small town that bears the same name as the farm is dominated by two Disneyland-like castles with spires and a futuristic building that looks like a sports arena but is actually a high-tech, 1.7 billion-ruble ($30 million) school that the farm built for residents.

 

“We spend this money in line with socialist principles: We spend it on people,” he says.

 

Grudinin boasts that he is fighting corruption just like opposition leader Navalny – but “not only with words but also with deeds, by not paying bribes.”

While Grudinin refuses to recognize Navalny as the only viable alternative to Putin, he is willing to appropriate some of the opposition leader’s agenda.

 

“We have too many bureaucrats and no one is responsible,” Grudinin said on state television. “If I tell the rich ‘instead of buying yachts, you should pay a higher income tax here, just like they do abroad,’ then maybe we will replenish the budget and we will modernize education and health care.”

 

Grudinin, who has declared 157 million rubles ($2.8 million) in income in the past six years, is no political novice. He sat on the local council in the early 2000s and was a member of the ruling United Russia Party until 2010.

 

In Putin’s first presidential election in 2000, Grudinin was one of 100 proxies for him, representing or speaking on his behalf in the campaign.

 

Asked if it feels strange now to run against Putin, Grudinin replies: “I wouldn’t say I’m running against Putin. I stand for a different path for the country’s development.”

 

Coopted by the Kremlin

Although openly critical of the current political order – saying that “people don’t trust the authorities” and that “corruption has taken the upper hand” – Grudinin is careful not to blame it all on the man who has been leading Russia for the past 18 years. Putin is just part of the system, he says.

 

That line echoes the rhetoric of his predecessor, long-time Communist Party chairman Gennady Zyuganov, who has run in four presidential elections since 1996.

 

Once a searing critic of President Boris Yeltsin, the 73-year-old Zyuganov and the Communists have been coopted by the Kremlin. These days, the Communists support all crucial Kremlin directives, such as the 2014 annexation of Crimea, while dissenting on minor issues, which allows Putin to maintain a facade of democracy.

 

While running against Yeltsin in 1996, Zyuganov spooked Russia’s oligarchs and foreign investors by promising to re-nationalize the strategic sectors of the economy while still allowing private property. Grudinin rejects calls to ban private ownership of land – once a key tenet of Communism.

 

Unlike Russia’s oligarchs who make headlines by buying foreign sports teams or giant yachts, Grudinin’s investments like those in the town of 5,000 people have made him a popular figure.

 

‘Putin’s place’

Pavel Samoilov, who works in a car repair shop, says he would love to work for Grudinin but the jobs on the farm are hard to get.

 

“People in the regions are much worse off than what they say on television,” says Samoilov, 33. He says he admires Putin’s foreign policy but says he has “allowed the country to come to ruin.”

 

Putin enjoys national approval ratings of over 80 percent. While Grudinin once was polling second to Putin, he has since fallen to a tie with perennial candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who has run for president six times.

 

Many of those who admire Grudinin still do not see him as a leader.

 

Maria, a 40-year-old mother of two who wouldn’t give her last name, sounded ecstatic about the well-equipped local school and kindergarten and likes Grudinin. But she won’t vote for him.

 

“We need to vote for Putin because he is a strong leader,” she said. “This is Putin’s place.”

 

USA Gymnastics: All Directors Have Resigned After Abuse Scandal

USA Gymnastics, the sport’s U.S. governing body, said Wednesday that all its remaining directors have resigned following revelations that the longtime team doctor had sexually abused numerous athletes under his care.

A USA Gymnastics spokeswoman on Friday had said that the full board intended to resign. The U.S. Olympic Committee threatened to revoke the organization’s governing authority if the full board had not stepped down by Wednesday, after former team doctor Larry Nassar was sentenced to up to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexual assault charges.

“We are in the process of moving forward with forming an interim board of directors during the month of February, in accordance with the USOC’s requirements,” USA Gymnastics said in a statement. “USA Gymnastics will provide information about this process within the next few days.”

Чехія готується прийняти на роботу до 20 тисяч громадян України

Уряд Чехії 31 січня ухвалив рішення, яке дозволить вже цього року прийняти на роботу до 20 тисяч українців, удвічі більше, ніж було досі.

Як йдеться в ухваленому документі, у відповідності до державної програми «REŽIM UKRAJINA» («Режим Україна»), кількість «заяв для отримання картки працевлаштування зросте на 10 тисяч».

Як зазначив міністр закордонних справ Чехії Мартін Стропніцкі, з цією метою буде збільшена кількість працівників чеських консульств в Україні, а також передбачається скорочення терміну залагодження дозволів на працевлаштування.

Як повідомляють чеські ЗМІ, Міністерство закордонних справ вже погодило свої кроки з головою уряду Андреєм Бабішем.

Через брак робочої сили в країні уряд Чехії також вивчає можливості працевлаштування громадян із Білорусі й Сербії.

 

У Facebook заборонили рекламувати криптовалюту

Соціальна мережа Facebook заборонила розміщувати на своїй платформі рекламу криптовалюти, первинного розміщення монет і бінарних опціонів. В офіційному блозі Facebook вказано, що цей крок спрямований проти оголошень про фінансові послуги, «які часто пов’язані з такими, що вводять в оману».

У Facebook повідомили, що будуть виявляти і видаляти таку рекламу і просять користувачів повідомляти про випадки порушення нових правил.

Повідомляється, що компанія стежитиме за виконанням нових правил як в самій соціальній мережі, так і в Audience Network та Instagram.

Біткойн – найпопулярніша криптовалюта в світі. Одна з головних особливостей платіжної системи – це те, що вона непідконтрольна жодній державі чи приватній особі. Власник біткоїнів може зберегти повну анонімність при здійсненні покупок в інтернеті.

В Україні Національний банк, Національна комісія з цінних паперів і фондового ринку й Національна комісія з регулювання ринків фінансових послуг не визнають криптовалюту платіжними засобами.

Rare Picasso Painting Starts Tour Before Next Month’s Auction

A rare Picasso painting will be auctioned off in London next month.  The 1937 work titled “Femme au beret et a la robe quadrillee” (Woman in beret and checked dress), inspired by the painter’s French lover Marie-Therese Walter is being shown in Hong Kong, Taipei, Los Angeles and New York before being sold. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports the painting’s Hong Kong debut is a clear indication of the growing importance of the Asian art market.

Beirut Guide Gives Walking Tours of City’s History and His Own

Tour guide Ronnie Chatah, 36, is once again doing what he loves after a four-year hiatus – telling the stories that have shaped Beirut’s history from ancient to modern times.

Chatah put the walking tours on hold in late 2013 after the assassination of his father Mohamad Chatah, a former minister and diplomat. He was worried he would not be able to give an impartial view of the city, he said.

“My father is buried in what is probably the most climactic part of the tour,” he said, referring to Martyrs’ Square, a pockmarked statue in the epicenter, where many Lebanese have rallied in times of political crisis since World War I. “It is not easy to look at your father’s burial site and just ignore the emotions.”

But reviving the tour has had a surprising effect.

“I have not had a better therapy session,” said Chatah, who first launched the tours in 2009.

Now for four hours every other Sunday, people follow Chatah as he explains some of the most complicated aspects of Lebanon’s capital.

He explains that the local currency is pegged to the U.S. dollar and about how since the civil war political power is shared between Lebanon’s 18 different religious sects. He also explains why so many abandoned heritage buildings have been seemingly left to disintegrate.

Standing outside what was once the Holiday Inn hotel, Chatah recounts how the building that once exemplified Beirut’s Seventies glamour became an icon of the 1975-1990 civil war only a few weeks after it opened. It became the military headquarters of whichever militant faction was winning the war in Beirut over the next 15 years.

For him, the building – with its grey exterior, huge gaping holes and revolving balcony – is the best reflection of how the Lebanese have yet to make peace.

“We don’t reflect properly and I think that is our problem. Maybe that is part of our story too, that we are constantly avoiding the deeper issues, and hence a country that still cannot stand properly on its own two feet,” he said.

The tour allows visitors to discover parts of the city that have either ceased to exist or cordoned off by security because of close proximity to government buildings or politicians’ residences. This includes what used to be the old Jewish neighborhood, once home to a small community that is now all but gone save for a restored synagogue.

“I thought I knew the area but I was surprised to find out about … a neighborhood that I never knew existed,” Sarah Harakeh, 24, a teacher said.

Chatah said he had been planning to resume the walks for just a couple of months, but now there are tours scheduled for the rest of the year.

“That is the persuasion of this city, you keep coming back, and even when you know it is not good for you,” he said.

Cuban Refugee Sets Cold War Stage in ‘Blind Date’

When U.S. President Ronald Reagan met Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev in Geneva, Switzerland, in November 1985, it was the start of a thaw in Cold War tensions that had dramatically escalated between the two nuclear-armed superpowers.

“It was a real moment in Cold War history in that no general secretary after the invasion of Afghanistan had sat across the table from the president of the United States,” explains playwright Rogelio Martinez.

The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan led to a six-year freeze in relations with the United States.  A subsequent increase in military spending on both sides, and a wider gap of understanding between the superpowers, led to increased anxiety — with the threat of nuclear annihilation hanging over the globe.

It’s one of the underlying narratives that drove Martinez to dig deeper into an event he didn’t fully understand at the time, when he was a 15-year-old student.  His research grew into the stage play “Blind Date.”

“Though the play has to do with Reagan and Gorbachev, it’s not. It’s about me, ultimately,” Rogelio explained to VOA.  “It’s about the world I grew up in.  It’s an extremely personal play, but it’s also a historical play.”

Martinez grew up in Cuba under the communist regime of Fidel Castro, and fled with family members to Florida during the 1980 Muriel boatlift.

What informs the dialogue and themes in “Blind Date” surrounding events during the historic Geneva summit comes partly from his own life experience — first under Soviet influence in Cuba, and later under American democracy, led by “The Great Communicator.”

“I started to write the play, and I realized that Reagan himself was a bit of an enigma,” says Martinez.  “He could pivot, which is a wonderful thing in politicians. He could change. He followed his own course and his own instincts.”

 

This was not information Martinez gleaned from an official transcript of the 1985 summit — which he says doesn’t exist — but comes from other sources: lengthy letters Gorbachev and Reagan exchanged before the meeting.

“They didn’t speak in soundbites. They actually found a great responsibility with every single word they put on that page.”

“It had to be thought out more thoughtfully,” says actor William Dick who portrays Gorbachev in the production. “Dialogue is crucial. There was a huge abyss between these two people and these two cultures that could have led to a nuclear disaster. But they had the courage to reach out in the dark blindly to each other to make an overture. They were both skeptical. They both thought it wouldn’t work. And it was difficult, but they began to talk.”

Actor Rob Riley plays Reagan opposite Dick’s Gorbachev, and says what unfolds onstage in “Blind Date” isn’t just a serious examination — it’s also infused with some humor — but it’s a history lesson that has some relevance today.

“Any play about international politics and leadership is going to have resonance with the present,” he told VOA, something playwright Martinez hopes audiences can learn from.

“There is incredible optimism in the play, something that is lacking in today’s times,” he says, “which says problems can be solved. They have to be solved in a way that forces people to rethink their beliefs, and to re-examine why they believe the things they believe.”

“I think the overarching theme applies to today,” says Dick. “It’s about dialogue. It’s about talking. As Reagan says in the play, not talking at each other or about each other but talking to each other is the crucial thing. Daring to go on that ‘blind date.’”

“Blind Date” appears at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago through Feb. 25. Martinez hopes wider audiences will have the chance to see the production, and believes what makes for good theater might someday make for a good film.

Jordan Peele Talks Oscars, ‘Get Out’ and Whoopi Goldberg

Jordan Peele has been dreaming of his Oscar moment since he was 13, but now that it’s happened, he can hardly believe it.

The 38-year-old received Academy Award nominations last week for best picture, director and original screenplay for his directorial debut, “Get Out.” The star of the horror/satire, Daniel Kaluuya, was also nominated for best actor.

“Get Out” may be Peele’s breakthrough, but the actor, writer, director and producer has been honing his skills for more than a dozen years. He started getting awards notice in 2008, when he shared in an Emmy nomination for a sketch he wrote for MADtv. He was nominated seven more times for his contributions to “Key & Peele,” the hit Comedy Central sketch show he created with Keegan-Michael Key. Peele also co-wrote and co-starred (with Key) in the 2016 action-comedy “Keanu.”

He said having his work recognized by the film academy has given him “faith in my voice.”

“It’s like jet fuel,” Peele said in an interview after last week’s nominations. “It makes me want to make as many movies that I can in my life.”

Peele’s comments have been edited for clarity and brevity.

AP: So how does it feel to be a triple Academy Award nominee?

Peele: Well, I’m not used to hearing yet. It’s a really overwhelming thing to try and process. I’m trying understand how I got here from this time last year not knowing if this movie was going to really work or really not work. 

AP: What a difference a year makes.

Peele: I’m definitely feeling the love and feeling with joy and honor of this accomplishment. But it is it has been a bittersweet year knowing that it has not been a great one for everybody.

AP: How was Oscar nominations morning for you?

Peele: I woke up a few minutes after the announcements were made. I was just getting really great texts from just about everybody I’ve ever met. And my (6-month-old) son slept through the night, so that was also huge. So it was like kind of a party at my house… Both he and I with our greatest accomplishments to date on the same morning. 

AP: Did you allow yourself to consider this possibility when you were writing sketches for “Key & Peele?”

Peele: I’ve been dreaming about this moment since I was 13. I’ve gone through times where I believed in it and times when I didn’t believe in it. So to have it happen, it comes with a really important lesson and realization for me which is that it’s bigger than me. It’s an important thing for a lot of people and the people who supported the film and the people out there who have the same dream but feel like they can’t do it for whatever reason.

AP: Audiences loved “Get Out,” but does the academy love feel different?

Peele: Yes, it does mean something different. I didn’t know that it would, but now that this has arrived, I’m reminded of when I watched Whoopi Goldberg win her Oscar for “Ghost.” And I remember she sent a message out in her speech that was for me. She said, ‘Don’t let anything stop you. If you want this, if you have a dream, follow that dream and you can achieve it.’ And I’ll always remember that. So hopefully that’s the message that this sends to other young artists of color and women and people who … feel like they’re outsiders and won’t be won’t be allowed into this industry or won’t be accepted. Hopefully they can sort of feel some of that message too.

AP: Is the recognition even sweeter given that this is an unconventional film with a lot to say?

Peele: Making this film, putting it out was very scary. I thought that it was very possible that the world wouldn’t be ready; that they would reject it or that it would not be received. But I knew that I loved it. I knew that it was something that needed to be said. And so the fact that it was scary is kind of how I knew it was important and that was it was my duty as an artist to face that fear and really risk it all.

Britons Ever More Deeply Divided Over Brexit, Research Finds

The social divide revealed by Britain’s 2016 vote to leave the European Union is not only here to stay but deepening, according to academic research published Wednesday.

UK in a Changing Europe, a research initiative, said Britons were unlikely to change their minds about leaving the EU, despite the political and economic uncertainty it has brought, because attitudes are becoming more entrenched.

“The [Brexit] referendum highlighted fundamental divisions in British society and superimposed a leave-remain distinction over them. This has the potential to profoundly disrupt our politics in the years to come,” said Anand Menon, the think tank’s director.

Britain is negotiating a deal with the EU that will shape future trade relations, breaking with the bloc after four decades, but the process is complicated by the divisions within parties, society and the government itself.

Menon said the research, based on a series of polls over the 18 months since Britain voted to leave the European Union, showed 35 percent of people self-identified as “Leavers” and 40 percent as “Remainers.”

Research also found that both sides had a tendency to interpret and recall information in a way that confirmed their pre-existing beliefs, which also added to the deepening of the impact of the vote.

Second vote

Polls have shown increasing support for a second vote on whether to leave the European Union once the terms of departure are known, but such a vote would not necessarily provide a different result, a poll by ICM for The Guardian newspaper indicated last week.

The report also showed that age was a better pointer to how Britons voted than employment. Around 73 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds voted to stay in the EU, but turnout among that group was lower than among older voters.

“British Election Study surveys have suggested that, in order to have overturned the result, a startling 97 percent of under-45s would have had to make it to the ballot box, as opposed to the 65 percent who actually voted,” the report said.

The difference between generations became even more pronounced in the 2017 general election, when the largest gap in how different generations voted was measured in Britain.

The British Election Study has been conducted by academics at every general election since 1964 and looks at why people vote, and why they vote the way they do.

Sources: Russian Spy Chief Met US Officials in US Last Week 

Russia’s foreign spy chief, who is under U.S. sanctions, met last week outside Washington with U.S. intelligence officials, two U.S. sources said, confirming a disclosure that intensified political infighting over probes into Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

Sergey Naryshkin, head of the Russian service known by its acronym SVR, held talks with U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and other U.S. intelligence officials, the sources said. The sources did not reveal the topics discussed.

A Russian Embassy tweet disclosed Naryshkin’s visit. It cited a state-run ITAR-Tass news report that quoted Russia’s ambassador to Washington, Anatoly Antonov, as telling Rossiya-1 television that Naryshkin and his U.S. counterparts discussed the “joint struggle against terrorism.”

Antonov did not identify the U.S. intelligence officials with whom he met.

The Central Intelligence Agency declined to comment. Coats’ office said that while it does not discuss U.S. intelligence officials’ schedules, “any interaction with foreign intelligence agencies would have been conducted in accordance with U.S. law and in consultation with appropriate departments and agencies.”

News of Naryshkin’s secret visit poured fresh fuel on the battles pitting the Trump administration and its Republican defenders against Democrats over investigations into Moscow’s alleged 2016 election interference.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demanded that the administration “immediately come clean and answer questions — which U.S. officials did he meet with? Did any White House or National Security Council official meet with Naryshkin? What did they discuss?”

The key question, Schumer told reporters, is whether Naryshkin’s visit accounted for the administration’s decision on Monday not to slap new sanctions on Russia under a law passed last year to punish Moscow’s purported election meddling.

“Russia hacked our elections,” Schumer said. “We sanctioned the head of their foreign intelligence and then the Trump administration invites him to waltz through our front door.”

A January 2017 U.S. intelligence report concluded that Russia conducted an influence campaign of hacking and other measures aimed at swinging the 2016 presidential vote to Trump over his Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton.

Last week, the Dutch newspaper de Volkskrant reported that the Netherlands intelligence concluded that some of the Russians running a hacking operation, known as “Cozy Bear,” against Democratic organizations were SVR agents.

CIA Director Mike Pompeo told the BBC in an interview last weekend that he had not “seen a significant decrease” in Russian attempts at subversion in Europe and the United States, and he expects Moscow to meddle in November’s U.S. mid-term elections.

Congressional panels and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are investigating Russia’s alleged interference and possible collusion between Moscow and Trump’s election campaign. Russia denies it meddled and Trump dismissed the allegations of collusion as a political witch hunt.

Naryshkin’s visit coincided with other serious disputes in U.S.-Russian relations. They include Russia’s 2014 seizure of Crimea and its interference in Ukraine and Russia’s military intervention on the government’s side in the Syrian civil war.

Washington and Moscow cooperate in some areas, including the fight against Islamic militant groups, officials said.

For example, a month ago the United States provided advance warning to Russia that allowed it to thwart a terrorist plot in St. Petersburg, the White House said.

Naryshkin, who was appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin to head the SVR in September 2016, was sanctioned by the Obama administration in March 2014 as part of the U.S. response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. At the time, he was speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament.

He was banned from entering the United States, but sanctions experts said there are processes for providing people under sanction permission to enter for official business. Meetings between foreign intelligence chiefs, even from rival nations, mostly are kept secret but are not unusual.